2017.09 minutiae

  • This month I went to the east coast.  At one point I was in the D.C. area, and decided to check out an Indian restaurant that the Yelpers seemed to like.  It was listed at D & 7th.  I found D & 7th on the Metro map—​wow, the train stopped right at that very corner!  How convenient!  Except when I emerged from the station, I discovered that it was the wrong D & 7th.  This was D & 7th SW, and I wanted D & 7th NW.  Apparently everyone has a D.C. story like this.  But mine has a little bit more to it.  I decided that if I wanted to get from SW to NW, then clearly all I had to do was walk north.  The question was whether the streets would go D, C, B, A, B, C, D, or whether it might be more like D, C, B, A, Z, Y, X, etc.  When it turned out to go D, C, Independence, Jefferson, that was the least helpful possibility of all.  “If only I could find some sort of landmark!” I thought to myself.  One second later, I looked to the right:

    And then to the left:

    In retrospect, if I only get one “if only” request fulfilled in my life, I probably shouldn’t have wasted it on that.

  • Because it was hot and humid on the east coast, I wore short sleeves.  Having spent all these years back in California, I forgot that mosquitoes exist.  My arms were bitten all to hell, especially the back of my left forearm.  I remembered from when I lived on the east coast that mosquito bites usually took about five days to heal.  This time around they just got bigger and pinker and itchier with each passing day.  By day nine they had turned into painful, overlapping welts the size of silver dollars, and my body reacted to all the histamines by breaking out into hives on top of all that.  That was what told me that this would never go away on its own, so I basically made a cast out of antihistamine cream and that did the trick.  I do still have dark bruise‐like marks where the bites used to be, but they are neither painful, itchy, nor swollen, so I will count mere unsightliness as a win.

  • Meanwhile, in Maryland:

    I guess all those “peak oil” people were right.

  • Speaking of fossil fuels, back in California I encountered this license plate:

    Though I agree with the sentiment, I did find it a little ironic that it was affixed to an electric car.  Gasoline‐powered cars rely on oil, of course, but not coal.  Electric cars get their energy from the grid, whose energy in some locations is derived from coal.  (Even in California coal makes up 0.5% of the fuel mix.)

  • Some of my undergrad friends invited me to have dinner with them at the Foothill dining commons.  It was my first time eating in a dorm cafeteria since I was an undergrad myself.  And while I’d never really found myself nostalgic for the food I had at Unit 3 back in the ’90s, I do remember it being significantly better than what Foothill had on offer!  Like, I remember that we always had a choice of entrées, one of which was always vegetarian (e.g., the options might be beef ravioli, chicken enchiladas, and aloo gobhi), along with some side dishes (mashed potatoes and green beans and stuff), and then there was also the salad bar and drink station and dessert area and whatnot.  At Foothill I saw a bunch of little stations (a pizza area, a stir‐fry area, etc.) but no main line to get a main course, nor did I see anyone eating a main course.  The quality also left a lot to be desired—​near the soup I discovered a basket of very stale focaccia, for instance.  Tuition tripled while I was a student and has quadrupled since; you would think that for that kind of money they could at least maintain the quality of the food.

  • Due to my job and just how my life has turned out in general, most of the people I talk to are 20+ years younger than I am.  Normally this doesn’t seem like a big deal but I do find myself having to say “that wasn’t invented yet” a lot.

  • I haven’t owned a pair of jeans in over twenty years, so it was always kind of eyebrow‐raising to me to walk around campus or even just around town and do a quick count: of the first hundred people I saw, how many would be wearing jeans?  Almost always over eighty, and sometimes over ninety!  But while I don’t really follow fashion at all, even I have noticed a couple of developments on this front in recent years.  First I saw that women’s jeans went away, replaced by… I guess they’re called “leggings”?  You know, those pants that cling so tightly that they might as well be body paint.  Then this year women’s jeans started to make a comeback, except now they all have holes that are so large that you can basically see the wearer’s legs in their entirety.  They’re basically shorts with the back half of a pair of jeans attached, but in front there’ll be holes revealing both thighs, both knees, and both shins, with just a few shreds of fabric keeping the legs of the jeans from flying apart.  Somehow this seems more risqué than actual shorts are—​looking at someone wearing the jeans with the giant holes is like having X‐ray vision.

  • You know when you can’t remember something and no amount of racking your brain will tease it out?  This month I was trying to remember a word, but all I could recall about it was that it started with the letter M and had something to do with royal marriages.  That didn’t turn out to be enough for Google to go on, at least not with any phrasing I could think of.  Then, a full week later, I was finishing up my dinner when out of the blue and with no context the word “morganatic” popped into my head.  It then took me another long confused moment to realize that that was the word I’d been trying to think of the week before.

  • This month’s Australian dessert was honeycomb.  When I first encountered this on Masterchef Australia, I thought they were putting chunks of actual honeycombs on their desserts, but it turns out that what you do is make caramel—​the recipe I found called for “golden syrup”, which I still had on hand from when I made those Anzac cookies in June—​and then at the moment that the caramel is ready, you dump in some baking soda and stir like mad.  Pour the foaming mass into a tray and it should harden into a crunchy confection full of little air pockets.  On the show the judges always grumbled about honeycomb that hadn’t been taken far enough, so since I knew I would be eating this on top of ice cream, I let it go all the way to foxy red instead of merely amber; it wasn’t burnt, so I think the judges would like the flavor, but it was still a little too bitter for me.  (I have no tolerance for bitter things.  I cannot drink coffee, for instance.)  I also didn’t get the texture right, as it collapsed back down into something denser than most of the honeycomb I saw on the show.  You can’t really see many of the air bubbles in the picture.  But nevertheless, here is my first attempt at Australian honeycomb:

  • The recipe warned that, as a sugar product, honeycomb gets extremely hot while it’s cooking, and I didn’t know how splattery the foaming action might get, so I put on some heavy clothing before making it, just in case.  I still managed to get a dollop of hot honeycomb mixture to land on my hand.  And naturally, my stupid brainstem processed this event like so: “Eeeagh! That is going to burn me! Must remove it immediately! And it is a food item!”  So before my conscious mind could interject, I stuck my hand in my mouth to remove the molten sugar.  But I lucked out: the mishap came about a minute after I had turned off the heat, so the honeycomb had cooled down enough that I only got a first‐degree burn on my hand, and didn’t actually burn my mouth at all.  Still, wtf.

  • Finally—​while I was in the D.C. area I thought I’d pop down to Virginia and visit my sister’s grave.  When I bought her gravestone with my first Ready, Okay! advance check, the cemetery only had one style available.  This is no longer the case.  When I got to what was labeled as the proper section of the cemetery, I thought I must be in the wrong place, because it looked nothing like what I remembered: it was full of all sorts of huge crazy gravesites with brightly colored marble and gold calligraphy and photos and things.  But I also noticed that all the death dates in the garish area were very recent: a lot of 2016 s, a few 2015 s, and not much from before.  So I walked and walked and walked, and gradually the dates got earlier: the ’00s, the ’90s, the ’80s, and then I passed though a barrier of trees into the quiet patch of grass I remembered.  All the markers were the same, set into the ground, and even though it had been many years since I had visited, muscle memory took me straight to the right spot:

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